UN warns of Israel-Palestinian ‘catastrophe’ as attacks persist
The United Nations warned Wednesday that a deadly surge in violence between Israelis and Palestinians is leading them toward “catastrophe” as new knife attacks struck the volatile West Bank.
An Israeli woman was moderately wounded in one such attack, while a Palestinian allegedly tried to stab an Israeli soldier and was shot dead in another, the police and army said.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the latest flare-up in the six-decade-old conflict was “dangerous in the extreme”.
“The violence between Palestinians and the Israelis will draw us ever closer to a catastrophe if not stopped immediately,” he said.
In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry said the bloodshed “is yet another indication of the folly of believing that efforts at permanent peace and reconciliation are somehow not worth pursuing.”
“The current situation is simply not sustainable over time.”
World leaders desperately want to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that collapsed in April 2014, to avoid a deeper slide into violence that many fear could lead to a third Palestinian intifada.
But Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said “it is no longer useful to waste time in negotiations” and warned a continuation of the violence could “kill the last shred of hope for the two-state-solution-based peace.”
He urged the UN “to set up a special regime for international protection for the Palestinian people.”
– Corpses held –
Abbas accused Israel of “extrajudicial killings of defenceless Palestinian civilians, (and having) detained their corpses, including children.”
Israel dismissed his comments.
“President Abbas chose once more the way of propaganda and incitement instead of the dialogue proposed by Israel,” said the foreign ministry.
Withholding the bodies of assailants is one of a series of Israeli measures to try to dissuade attacks on Jews, which began in early October as tensions over the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in annexed east Jerusalem boiled over.
Palestinians have long feared Israelis seek to change the rules governing the site that is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly denied seeking to allow Jews to pray at the compound, which they refer to as the Temple Mount.
Only Muslims are allowed to pray within the compound, while non-Muslims can visit but not pray there.
The West Bank city of Hebron is a hotbed of unrest, with near-daily clashes with Israeli police where protesters often suffer bullet wounds or are killed.
Palestinian organisations say the bodies of 25 attackers and an Israeli Arab have not been returned to families.
They are among 61 killed since October 1. Palestinian medics say some 2,000 Palestinians have been wounded.
“The terrorist’s family makes his funeral a show of support for terrorism and incitement to murder and we cannot allow it,” Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in mid-October when the measure was announced.
The bodies would be buried in plots reserved for attackers, “as has been done in the past”.
The move infuriates Muslims who have strict burial rules.
The Israelis “want to put pressure on us… they know that it is more than a red line for us: they execute them and then they try to crush our dignity,” said Jihad Irshaid, the father of 17-year-old Dania who was shot dead on Sunday while allegedly trying to stab soldiers.
Amnesty International has accused Israel of a series of “unlawful killings of Palestinians using intentional lethal force without justification” in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
– ‘Inciting and provoking’ –
At the weekend Israel and Jordan — the holy site’s custodian — agreed to allow surveillance cameras at Al-Aqsa, but this has hit trouble as the two locked horns over the installation.
Further straining the situation, an Israeli Arab lawmaker visited the mosque compound Wednesday, defying a ban by Netanyahu on visits by lawmakers and government ministers, to avoid provoking Muslim anger.
“Israel does not control who is banned from entering the mosque,” Basel Ghattas, a Christian member of parliament for the Arab Joint List coalition, wrote on Facebook.
Netanyahu condemned the “provocative” move, saying he would “not let any Knesset member or minister ignite the Temple Mount”.
On Tuesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said it was her “dream to see the Israeli flag flying” over the holy site, prompting Netanyahu to order ministers to follow the government line.